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Diabetes is a chronic and fatal disease in which there are above normal levels of glucose in the bloodstream. This disease has many different effects on the body and is controlled in several different ways. There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is also called "insulin-dependent" diabetes. In this type, the body is unable to store and use glucose as an energy source effectively. The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin that helps lower blood sugar and aids in the passage of glucose out of the blood cells into body cells. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. This type may occur in both sexes and mainly in children, teens, or young adults. One half of all people with type 1 are under the age of 20. It is very rare in Asians, Africans, and Native Americans. This disease is hereditary, but is usually triggered by a viral infection. Some of the symptoms of type 1 are urgent thirst, excessive urination, weight loss, fatigue, and irritability. Because it is inherited, this type can not be prevented. The second type of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, or "non-insulin dependent" diabetes. In this type, insulin is produced by the pancreas but is ineffective. This type usually affects obese middle-aged and older people and can affect nearly all races. The risk of developing this type increases with age. Similar to the first type, it is also hereditary but is triggered by obesity. Some of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes are thirst, excessive urination, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, frequent infections, tingling, and numbness. The only way to avoid this type is to avoid obesity. Even though stress is a big factor in the development of diabetes, it is not an actual cause. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system accidentally destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as if they were foreign invaders. This is called an auto-immune response and is the actual reason a person might get diabetes. The reason for this auto-immune response is not yet known. Other factors linked to type 1 diabetes are genetics and viruses. In type 2 diabetes, obesity is the single most important cause. Diabetes involves a hormone action which varies from person to person and, therefore, no two people's disease are quite the same. Because there are endless varieties of responses and treatments, the care of this disease depends mainly on individualized plans. Meal and exercise plans are very important in the treatment of diabetes. Meal plans help control weight, control blood sugar levels, and help reduce the chances of needing additional medications. A healthy diet should include avoiding sugar, eating low fat and high fiber foods. Meals should be eaten regularly and at least three times a day to control blood sugar levels. Exercise helps to maintain muscle tone and physical fitness. Also, it helps to increase sensitivity to medications and to lower blood sugar levels. There may be other paths followed in treatment. Oral medications can be taken to reduce sugar levels by improving insulin release, reducing available sugar, and decreasing insulin resistance. This method does not work for all diabetics. Very commonly, diabetics will use insulin injections to mimic their normal insulin release. This makes up for the body's inability to produce insulin and reduce blood sugar levels and by improving the insulin action. Before doing an insulin injection, the person will usually do a blood sugar test by pricking their finger. Insulin injections are usually taken 3-4 or more times a day. One treatment for diabetes that is experimental right now is a pancreas transplant. Some positive aspects of this are that the diabetic may stop the insulin shots and that people with nerve damage do not get worse but usually show significant improvement. On the other hand, some negative aspects of the transplant are that the body may reject the new organ and the patient will also have to take immunosuppressant drugs which lower resistance to other diseases such as cancer and viral infections. This transplant treatment is not recommended for type 1 patients unless they are also receiving a new kidney. Statistics show that 15% of all patients who get a new pancreas die within five years of the transplant. Serious complications frequently develop from diabetes. Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is a major problem for diabetics and causes strokes and heart attacks. It also causes poor circulation. Since smoking also has these effects on the body, diabetics should definitely not smoke. Another complication is cataracts, which is a degenerative change in the lens of the eye. Cataracts cause dimness of vision or eventual loss of vision. Neuropathy is nerve damage that occurs in many diabetics. This causes weakness, dizziness, and loss of feeling in hands and feet. Other complications are kidney damage, high blood pressure, major infections, and foot ulcers. Because nerve damage and tissue death are big problems for diabetics, cuts, scratches, and infections on the feet will be harder to detect. This is why proper foot care is extremely important. Also, if blood sugar levels are poorly controlled, the diabetic may develop serious problems with their teeth and gums. A special concern is periodontal disease, which can eventually destroy the gums and bones that support the teeth. Besides the complications that go along with the disease, a diabetic may have severe reactions to several different related factors. A hypoglycemic reaction occurs when an excess of insulin causes the blood glucose to fall below 50mgs/100ml of blood. If alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach, it can cause a severe low blood sugar reaction. Because no sugar can be released to the body, it is very important to eat before drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol is also a bad idea because it dulls the sense of judgment and make the person forget about eating a meal or taking an insulin injection. A diabetic may have a positive reaction to exercise. It gives them a higher energy level, higher stamina, and a better means of dealing with stress. Exercise also helps to lower blood pressure, control weight, and decrease the risk for heart disease. All of these are very beneficial to the diabetic. A diabetic athlete should always have his/her "diabetes gear" with them while working out. This consists of ID of some kind, a Glucagon Emergency Kit, juice, crackers, water, and a blood sugar testing kit. In very severe cases, it is important that the person knows and watches out for the symptoms of falling blood sugar. These are usually weakness, shakiness, headaches, tingling, stomach aches, dizziness, and nervousness. They may also lose coordination or get confused. If their brain is not getting enough fuel, they may also pass out. This could lead to serious accidents if a reaction occurred while driving a car. Repeated reactions may also cause brain damage. Carefully performed blood sugar tests are very critical to avoiding reactions. When a reaction occurs, it is very important for the person to eat or drink something sweet to raise sugar levels. If the diabetic is having convulsions or is unconscious, glucagon must be injected and an ambulance must be called immediately. Glucagon raises blood sugar levels by stimulating the liver to release stored glucose and help it get into the bloodstream. Under no circumstances should food or liquid be forced into the mouth of the person having such a reaction. Once the reaction has improved, the diabetic must eat something with carbohydrates or protein or a repeat reaction could occur. One in twenty Americans have diabetes. One half of these people do not even know that they have it. One in every five people born today will develop it. Even though technological research is constantly presenting new hope, the number of people with diabetes is expected to rise still in the future.


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